Thursday, January 22, 2009

Global Warming: A George Will Harrumph

Noted conservative columnist, George Will, is under increasing criticism for clearly attempting to mislead his readers regarding global warming. Faithful followers know about his conservative timbre and trademark tendency toward sesquipedalian prose. With his PhD from Princeton and his M.A. from Oxford, Will instinctively scatters long, generally unfamiliar words like journalistic territorial scent marks on the page.

My first exposure to his denial that global warming is real was his column in the January 26th, 2009 edition of Newsweek. It started with a final verbal lashing of George W. Bush for his incompetence and failed leadership. It then artfully winds its way through his assessments of the name, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” to the failures of hurricane Katrina disaster assistance, the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, and then, in a seeming involuntary, uncontrollable Tourette Syndrome burst of keyboard tapping, this paragraph is awkwardly forced into the column:

“Within the lifetimes of most Americans now living, today's media-manufactured alarm about man-made global warming might be an embarrassing memory. The nation will then be better off because Bush—during whose administration the embarrassing planet warmed not at all—refused to be stampeded toward costly "solutions" to a supposed crisis that might be chimerical, and that, if real, could be adapted for considerably less cost than will be sunk in efforts at prevention.”

Wait, did I just read that? Will says there is no man made global warming, and that it is all going to be OK? All the scientific warming measurements for 2008 are inconsequential?

Will chooses his words carefully. He qualifies his claims with “man-made,” “supposed crisis” and “if real,” all coded references that position him way to the right. But then he suggests the supposed crisis “might be chimerical.” (You may imagine your own mythical fire-belching she-goat animal made from mismatched body parts.) This mythic characterization allows him to leave a door open for possibly, maybe, kinda, some sort of climate change. The derailing of his column’s train of thought from reviewing Bush’s two-term presidency to suddenly, jarringly pitching his denial of global warming is puzzling and troubling.

Will’s eagerness to throw in other clearly false items in his columns is equally troubling. In a Washington Post column in June, 2008, Will wrote that "Drilling is underway 60 miles (97 km) off Florida. The drilling is being done by China, in cooperation with Cuba, which is drilling closer to South Florida than U.S. companies are."

Dick Cheney, and GOP House leader, John Boehner both cited the same wild claim to the press, desperately wanting to believe the right wing fiction. All three were forced to offer retractions after Democrats and energy experts pointed out the gross error. But the egg had already dried on their faces by then.

A little more poking around shows that George F. Will is, in fact, a darling of man-made global warming denier web sites like who declare they are, “dedicated to debunking, reviewing, and responding to the shrill cries of the media and the global warming zealots who have embraced anthropogenic global warming (AGW) as an eco-religion and not as a scientific endeavor for answers.” One wonders if perhaps Will wrote that paragraph for their web site, because folks usually just say ‘manmade’ instead of anthropogenic.

The nuttiest swerve in his train of thought was in a December 29th, 2007 column, when Will sputters forth with, “Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize that should have gone to nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow, who proposed saving the planet by limiting—to one—"how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting."

And from that strange, tasteless toilet paper comparison, Mr. Will sweepingly minimizes concerns of the world’s top atmospheric and environmental scientists with observations like, “The warming that is reasonably projected might be problematic, although not devastating, for the much-fretted-about polar bears, but it will be beneficial for other species. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment anticipates increasing species richness.”

George’s father, Frederick L. Will, was a professor of philosophy, and specialized in epistemology, at the University of Illinois. Ironically, Will certainly must know that epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. Today Will sadly seems to be unable or unwilling to make that distinction in his writing.

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